Be a czar in the short-lived role

Most CEOs see the value of appointing an e-business czar -- a senior executive whose full-time job it is to create and oversee the execution of the enterprise e-business strategy.

Most CEOs see the value of appointing an e-business czar -- a senior executive whose full-time job it is to create and oversee the execution of the enterprise e-business strategy.

The czar is a transient figure, typically lasting no more than 24 months. That's because the czar's job is to work himself or herself out of a job by institutionalising e-business throughout the enterprise.

But make no mistake, although this is a short-lived role, it is key. What, then, should be the czar's mission?

In many cases the decision to appoint a czar is driven by a specific problem, and is often focused on some aspect of competitiveness. So the czar's first priority should be to investigate the cause of the problem, uncover the politics involved, and assess whether or not the issue should be addressed immediately.

The czar should then devote his or her energy to aligning existing initiatives around a single enterprise e-business strategy and laying the foundation for possible future actions.

Once appointed, many czars fall into the trap of undertaking all-encompassing projects, such as mapping the information flows in and out of the enterprise to determine the key customer "pain points" and uncover inefficiencies. Although this is an admirable goal, a czar must recognize the potential politics surrounding his or her appointment, and should develop a more action-oriented plan. Also, the need to prove your mettle quickly is staggering in this role, and early efforts must yield fast and measurable results.

The czar will have a two-part programme that ultimately will institutionalise e-business throughout the enterprise. His or her efforts will be divided between two key tasks: focusing on key e-business initiatives and creating enterprise alignment.

In addition to addressing enterprise-specific issues, the czar will have to fulfill some key tasks for leading e-business.

  • Developing the mandate for e-business, which is then reflected in corporate goals (and the company's annual report) and in business plans that are mapped to e-business.
  • Persuading and influencing business leaders to act on the e-business mandate.
  • Creating the enterprise agenda by identifying the key processes that must be transformed, and understanding how e-business can be used for competitive advantage.
  • The czar must also identify the key tasks for enterprise alignment, which include the following.
  • Gathering information on previously documented e-business strategies.
  • Cataloging all e-business activities (current as well as planned).
  • Developing an enterprise e-business strategy, and corresponding ownership and communication plans.
  • Lobbying the CEO and the board for funding of e-business efforts.
  • Identifying key technical requirements of e-business.
  • Creating an evaluation and prioritisation process for enterprise e-business initiatives.
  • Researching and selecting key business partners.
  • Developing a strategy, methods, and processes for how the company will outsource noncore processes and competencies using external service providers and ASPs (application service providers).
  • Revising corporate metrics for e-business.
  • Centralised organisations should give their czar enterprisewide responsibility, whereas companies that have independent divisions or business units should install e-business leaders in each division or business unit.
Recently appointed czars have no time to waste and must demonstrate ruthless e-business strategy execution within the first 30 days "in office."

Companies that appoint e-business czars expect immediate and significant results. Therefore a czar's initial efforts should focus on development and buy-in for the new enterprise e-business strategy.

Although the czar's mission and associated compensation is based on institutionalizing e-business, his or her effectiveness is directly tied to the ability to influence and build the trust. After six months, a successful czar should begin considering his or her exit strategy.

Gomolski is a research director at Gartner Group, a Stamford, Connecticut-based research firm. Send email to Barbara Gomolski.

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